Is it time to change the way we interview Sales Professionals?

The internet is not short of lists of questions to ask sales candidates. Questions to test skill, behaviour, results, teamwork, all that stuff. But here’s my sales interview puzzle, how can you be sure if the nervous person sitting in front of you is any good at building relationships, arguably one of the most important skills in sales, as you test their skill during one of the most unnatural environments we are ever likely to find ourselves in, the dreaded interview.

What about if we did it all differently. What about if we set the candidate up to show us who they really are. What about if we listened to our own advice on what’s important in selling and applied it to the interview process to let those great candidates shine through. Why aren’t we as caring with our potential new team members as we are with our potential new clients? It certainly seems to be as hard to find great sales people as it is to win new business. Or maybe winning business is hard because we haven’t improved how we hire. Here’s an idea.

What about if it was a meeting, not an ‘interview’

I deliberately say ‘meeting’ as opposed to ‘interview’ as it’s a scary word, most people fear an interview. How about if we propositioned it differently. Instead of ‘we’d like to invite you to an interview next week, we said, “I’m really interested in meeting you for a coffee and learning more about what you’ve been up to, do you have any time next week?

We’d never say to a prospect “I’d like to do a needs analysis to see if I think I can sell to you”. We’re so careful with our use of language when dealing with sales prospects, I wonder what it would be like if we applied that same care to our potential new team members?

What about if it was somewhere you both felt comfortable?

What about if there was no office meeting room, there was no pen and paper neatly laid out, no resume and no plastic cups filled with mildly warm water on the table. What about if it was less clinical, maybe at your local coffee shop, somewhere neutral, somewhere you both felt really relaxed to chat.

What about if you started by giving an intro about yourself?

I don’t really mind if it’s personal, work related or both. But I do believe it’s your job to make your candidate feel as relaxed as possible, you’re the host. Imagine if you walked into a meeting and started bombarding the prospect with questions without having had a little chat first. The guard has to come down, why not spend 5 minutes giving them some insight into who you are first so they don’t feel like they’re talking about their career to a complete stranger.

Give your candidate a compliment

It’s time to get the conversation flowing, how good would it be if your first question was disguised by a compliment, ‘I was really impressed to see what you managed to do in just 3 years at your last company, how do you feel about leaving now?” You’ve complimented them, they feel good, the guard is down, it’s time to get to know each other.

What about if it was a conversation, not a Q&A?

How about you leave the interview questions in the office and the first time you meet you have a conversation where you learn about each other. We always say stuff like, it’s as much about you interviewing us as it is about us interviewing you, but giving your candidate 5 mins for questions at the end of an interview doesn’t demonstrate that as they nervously hurry through their preprepared list.

How do you feel at the end?

You’re not doing this to make lots of friends, you’re finding out how good they are in building a relationship, you’re paying careful attention to the following things:

How well are they matching your tone, body language and pace of conversation? How comfortable do you feel being in each others company?

We say sales is about listening but how can we test listening skills if we’re not doing any talking? See how well they listen to you, are they asking thoughtful questions?

Being able to communicate well is so important, how well do they explain ideas/experiences? Do they use emotive language that excites you?

Chat through a challenge you’ve experienced and see how they respond, do they show support and understanding? Do they show empathy?

I’m not suggesting there isn’t any formality to the interview process. But knowing how important the things above are when selling is enough for me to question how we start our relationships with our sales candidates. I think we should also remember that with sites like glassdoor, everyone has a voice, and a candidates experience with your company can speak volumes about you. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, time is never wasted if your candidate tells 10 people what a great meeting they had with you and what a great company it must be to work for.

And maybe we’ve played around with our sales process, invented a new rate card, bought in a new bit of sales tech, increased the product line, all to try and make the numbers go up. But maybe the bit that needs the most attention is way before the sales process begins. Maybe we need to pay some attention and care to how we find and hire the very best sales reps.

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